For many people with a disability service animals become an integral part of their lives, as they provide valuable assistance and help their handlers to easier overcome everyday challenges more easily. Usually, the process of obtaining and raising a service dog is quite difficult not only because of the financial resources needed but also due to a misunderstanding about the nature of service dogs.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most popular misconceptions in regard to service animals, and we will try to debunk some myths.
One of the most popular misinterpretations of the term “service animal” is the necessity of an identification vest
Is a vest a majority? The answer is “No”. Of course, there are people who would rather put a vest on their service dogs as an identification. Animals that are wearing a vest can be easily recognized in public spaces and the intentions of strangers to pet the animal may be dissuaded. If you think that it would be better if your service animal can be recognized in public, you do not have to worry about the color or design of the vest, as there no requirements.
In order for a dog to become a service dog, it should be registered or certified
This is another myth that we need to debunk. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not request a service animal to be registered, although there are online registers available. ADA does not require certification as well. A certificate does not provide an individual with a disability with rights that exceed the rights of a person with no disability.
However, it is important to mention that there is certain documentation required by the airlines while traveling with a service animal:
U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form and Behavior Attestation Form
U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Relief Attestation Form (Relief Form)
Dogs are required to go through official training in order to become official service dogs
If you think that your pup needs to join an official training program, that is likely to be very expensive, we will be happy to let you know that you can train your own service dog. A service dog should perform specific tasks in order to help individuals with a disability and the specific task must be directly related to this disability. Considering this specification of the term “service animal” we want to mention again that Emotional Support Animals are no longer deemed service animals. Although they provide valuable comfort and emotional support, they are not trained to perform specific tasks. However, ADA does not require official training programs for dogs to become service dogs.
Only people with visual, hearing, or mobile impairments may have service animals
There are different types of disabilities like physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities. Service dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks in order to enhance the life of an individual with a disorder.
Local laws do not apply to Service Animals
This is another misunderstanding of the service dog regulations that we need to clarify. If local laws require vaccination or license for service dogs, the handler must comply with them.
A very popular myth in regard to service animals is that an emotional support animal, a psychiatric service dog, and a therapy dog are identical
As already explained above, emotional support animals are not considered service animals, as they are not trained to perform specific work or tasks. ESA can be different species, as service animals according to the ADA regulations can be only dogs (some states accept miniature horses as well).
Therapy dogs have been trained to visit different facilities like hospitals and to behave properly. Similar to ESA, therapy dogs are not trained to perform specific tasks, and they are not considered service animals.
In comparison with the ESA and therapy dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs are considered service animals, as they perform different tasks to detect and in some cases to interrupt certain behaviors. They can interfere with the harmful behavior of their handler, once they identify it, or even remind their handler to take a medication.
If you think that a person with a disability may have only one service dog, you are wrong.
It is true that most people with impairments have one service dog. However, the number of the service animals allowed may exceed that number in some cases i.e. if a person has more than one disability and needs more than one service dog for assistance (for example persons with mobile and hearing impairments or with visual impairments and PTSD).
As we explained, service animals should go through training whether professional or individual in order to provide specific tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. As a service dog is expected to be well-behaved, we can not expect all service dogs to not bark.
Another misconception in regard to service dogs is that all of them do not bark.
You need to keep in mind that the task that a dog is trained to perform could be related to barking as an alert. There are different types of alert service animals like diabetic, allergy, or seizure alert service dogs. When a trained service dog determines a harmful factor, it can bark as a warning sign.
You need to remember that not all disabilities are visible, and many individuals benefit from the help of trained service dogs.
A very common misunderstanding is related to the service dogs breeds and the concept that some of them may and others may not become service animals.
The Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are very often considered the only breeds that are allowed to become service dogs.
These breeds have characteristics like loyalty, intelligence, nice personality, and strength, that make them perfect as service animals. Despite these features, a person with a disability is allowed to choose whatever breed they consider most suitable to their own needs and lifestyle. You need to note that breeds considered more dangerous and aggressive like Pit bulls can also become service animals. It is a violation of the ADA regulations if a person accompanied by a service dog from such a kind of breed is denied access only because of the dog’s breed. The presence of a service animal can be prohibited, but this may be related to harmful and disruptive behavior that may pose a threat to the health and safety of others.
ADA states: “A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal's breed or how the animal might behave”.
Large, as well as very small breeds, may be trained as service animals, depending on the tasks they are required to perform.
Although a non-discrimination policy in regard to the service dogs breeds should be provided, does it mean that all dogs can become service dogs?
All dogs can become service dogs
As a service dog needs to have an emotionally stable temperament, to be easy-going and friendly, not all dogs may be suitable for service dogs.
Persons with a disability, accompanied by a service dog are not required to provide a certification or identification for the dog while in public. Does it mean that owners and employees may not ask questions in order to verify the legitimacy of the service dog?
The business may not ask people with a disability questions related to their service dogs
Actually, business owners are allowed to ask two questions:
1. Is the dog a service dog due to a disability;
2. What tasks is it trained to perform.
Businesses may not prohibit the presence of a service animal on their premises and should modify their policies accordingly. However, in some cases the presence of an animal, even if it is a service animal, may be prohibited due to safety and health reasons. Service animals may not be allowed in sterile areas like hospitals or in areas, on which territory food has been prepared.
If a service animal is not well-behaved and/or it causes damages, its access to facilities and establishments may be denied. A service animal handler should always supervise and control their animal’s behavior.
We need to make clear that the presence of a service dog may not be prohibited by business owners or employees only because they are feeling uncomfortable due to the presence of the animal.
It may take several months for a dog to become a service animal, but does the training stop after this period?
Another popular myth is that after the main training and certification a service animal does not require additional exercises
As a service animal should meet the needs of its owner, it may be able to adapt to any changes that may occur in the future. With that in mind, we can conclude that the training of a service animal may never end, as the handler’s needs may change over time.